the tell tale heart edgar allan poe. background "the tell-tale heart" is a famous short story by...

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  • The Tell Tale HeartEdgar Allan Poe

  • Background"The Tell-Tale Heart" is a famous short story by American author Edgar Allan Poe. He first published the story in January 1843, in the short-lived Pioneer magazine. "Tell-Tale" is about a nameless man who kills an old man for a really strange reason, which we won't give away here. The nameless man tells the story of the murder to prove he is not insane. Poe was born January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts to actors Elizabeth and David Poe, both of whom died before Poe's second birthday. Shortly thereafter, Poe moved to Virginia to live with the childless couple John and Frances Allan.

  • Background ContinuedHis biography has fascinated scholars and readers for a long time, and nobody can quite pin him down. Many scholars agree that he was a heavy drinker and was addicted to the drug laudanum. There is much gossip, speculation, and fabrication regarding the man's death, but he probably passed away as a result of drug and alcohol-related complications. He died October 13, 1849, at Church Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland (source). Poe believed that a perfect story should be readable in one sitting, that it should be a tightly controlled, highly compressed narrative that hit on topics to which everybody can relate. Weighing in at ten precise paragraphs, "Tell-Tale" is an excellent example of Poe's theory of writing. For more, check out his essay "Philosophy of Composition."

  • SETTINGIn the old mans houseBetween the hours of midnight and 4 am

  • CHARACTERSThe Narrator ( we never know his name) (protagonist)The Old manThe Vulture Eye (antagonist)The Police Officers

  • Read The Tell Tale Heart

  • SummaryA nameless person explains that he is and was extremely nervous, but is not and was not insane. Rather, the narrator has a "disease" which makes all his senses, especially his hearing, very sensitive. To prove that he isn't insane, the narrator shares an event from his past. Let's jump into his tale:

  • Summary ContinuedThe narrator has an idea that he can't shake. He loves the old man and has nothing against him. Excepthis horrible eye, which is "pale blue [] with a film over it" (2). The narrator hates the eye and decides to kill the old man to be free of it. To that end, the narrator goes to the old man's room every night at 12am, for seven days. Each night the narrator opens the man's door and puts in a lantern (the kind they don't make anymore, with panels that can be adjusted to release more or less light). After the lantern, the narrator puts his head through the doorway, extremely slowly, and then opens the lantern so a tiny beam of light shines on the old man's eye. Each night the old man doesn't open his eye, so the narrator feels that he can't kill him. .

  • Summary ContinuedOn the eighth night, the old man hears the narrator at the door and wakes up. The narrator hangs out there in the dark for a long time, then, with a scream, plunges into the totally dark room, opening the lantern, and shining light on the old man's eye. The narrator drags the old man, who has only screamed once, off the bed, and then pulls the bed on top of the man. When the narrator hears the man's heart stop beating, he removes the bed and checks to make sure the old man is really dead, which he is. So the narrator cuts him up and hides his remains under the floor. Then three policemen come. A neighbor had heard a scream and called them. The narrator says he screamed while sleeping, and claims that the old man is out of town. After convincing the cops nothing bad is going down, the narrator brings them into the old man's bedroom, and they all sit down to chat. While they are all shooting the breeze, the narrator starts hearing a terrible ticking noise, which gets louder and louder until the narrator freaks out, confesses, and points the police to the old man's body, stating that the sound is coming from the old man's heart

  • Outline ActivityOutline events in The Tell Tale Heart" that form the rising action, the climax, and the falling action. (PLOT CHART)

  • POINT OF VIEW:1st person unreliable

  • CONFLICT Internal--- Narrator vs. HimselfHe is CrazyExternal narrator vs. vulture eye The narrator wants to kill the vulture eye, not the old manHe justifies getting rid of the eye even though he loves the old man.

  • The Old Man's Eye

    The old man's eye is blue with a "film" or "veil" covering it. This could be a medical condition, like a corneal ulcer, but symbolically it means that the characters have issues with their "inner vision" what's commonly known as one's outlook on the world. They are stuck. Everything is obscured for them. Our reading of the story is likewise filtered through this hazy eye, causing at least some confusion and frustration with the text. The eye also does some pretty weird stuff. It seems dull and unseeing yet, it has strange powers. It makes the narrator's blood run cold. It "chill[s] the very marrow in [his] bones" (6). After hiding the old man's body, the narrator "replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye not even his [the old man's] could have detected any thing wrong" (8). Interesting. That statement implies that at some point the eye could see hidden or secret things.

  • The Old Man's Eye

    The eye also seems to have a bodyguard, the heart. When the narrator trains the beam on the open eye, it causes the heart to beat an alert. When the policemen are there, the heart beats loudly to alert the cops so the eye can again see and be seen. The narrator is fixated on the "vulture eye" aspect of the old man's eye. He brings it up three times. Vultures prey on the sick or dead, and they gorge themselves to the point of stupor. Whether or not the old man is a vulture-like person, we can't know. But that's what he symbolizes to the narrator. If vultures prey on the dead and almost dead, and the narrator is afraid of the "vulture eye," does this mean the narrator is dead or almost dead?

  • Irony

    Irony - The narrator constantly expresses how he's not insane, yet his actions indicate otherwise.

  • THEMEGuilt and Innocence The guilt of the narrator is a major theme in The Tell-Tale Heart. The story is about a mad person who, after killing a companion for no apparent reason, hears an interminable heartbeat and releases his overwhelming sense of guilt by shouting his confession to the police. Indeed, some early critics saw the story as a straightforward parable about self-betrayal by the criminals conscience.

  • The ExpositionSettingInside a house between the hours of midnight and 4amCharactersThe narrator POV 1st person unreliableOld manThe vulture eye--- ANTAGONIST OF THE STORYPolice

  • Narrative Hook Do you think I am mad?

  • Rising ActionDoes not like the vulture eyeJustification: loves the old man but not his eyeSpies on the man at midnight for 7 nightsAwakens the man on the 8th night


  • FALLING ACTIONFeels proud of himselfPolice come to question himNarrator take police to the room with the bodyBegins to get nervous because he hears a heart beating


  • Dissimulation hiding ones feelings or motivesyou should have seen how wisely I proceededwith what foresight- with what dissimulation I went to work!

  • Cunning Skill or cleveroh you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in!

  • Sagacity The quality of being intelligent and of sound judgmentNever before that night, had I felt the extent of my own powers-of my sagacity.

  • Hearkening Paying careful attentionHearken! And observe how healthy-how calmly I can tell you the whole story.How then am I mad? Hearken!

  • Scantlings small upright pieces of lumberI then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber and deposited all between the scantlings.

  • What question does the speaker ask his audience? He asks his audience why everyone calls him madBut why will you say I am MAD?Do you think of me MAD?

  • What physical feature does the narrator dislike about the old man? His vulture eye

  • Explain how the speaker behaves towards the old man every morning. And every morning when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he passed the nightHe acts perfectly normal, like nothing is wrong.

  • How does the narrator feel when he realizes that he can scare the old man? Triumphant

  • What simile does the speaker use to describe the effect that the beating heart had uponhim It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage

  • Where does the narrator hide the body of the old man? Between the scantlingsBeneath the floorboards

  • What does the narrator hear when he is explaining the events to the police? The Beating of the heartHe really hears the beating of his own heart

  • Do you think that the narrator is sane or insane at the end of the story? Explain youranswer Your opinion

  • Would you have brought the police into the room with the body? Why or why not? Opinion

  • Explain the title of the story. Opinion